Electronics Manufacturing Eats a Hole in the Earth Every Day
Mining materials for short-lived products has long-term consequences on people, our pocketbooks, and our planet.
of the energy a laptop uses in its lifetime is consumed during manufacturing, not during use by consumers.
Mining for the materials in electronics is incredibly destructive. Getting a single ounce of gold out of the earth creates 80 tons of waste.
1/3 of tin
in the world comes from informal mines in Bangka, Indonesia—mines so poorly run that a worker dies in a landslide almost once a week.
the world’s supply of tantalum is sold to make electronics, like televisions and tablets—some of it funding civil wars in Africa.
Making our stuff requires an astounding amount of raw materials.
By weight, electronics require far more resources than any other product.
An 8-ounce phone requires over 165 pounds of raw material. Fueled by the demand for cool gadgets, iron ore production has increased by 180%, cobalt by 165%, and lithium by 125% in the last 10 years.
But we’re running out of stuff to mine.
Every year, manufacturers have to go deeper into the earth, producing more waste for less raw materials. Copper ore deposits are one-tenth the purity of the ore mined 100 years ago. Gold yields have declined 23% in the last six years.
We measure the cost of mining not in dollars, but in lives.
A California rare earth mine spilled 300,000 gallons of radioactive waste across the Mojave Desert, and rare earth mines continue to contaminate groundwater in Malaysia.
Both Samsung and Apple have confirmed that they use tin from deadly Indonesian tin mines, which sometimes collapse on miners.
In 2012, Nintendo was ranked as the worst consumer electronics company when it comes to conflict minerals monitoring.
Manufacturing costs us resources and energy.
Electronics come with baggage we can’t see. To make a phone, manufacturers need a lot more material than ends up in the finished product—200 times more. A desktop computer requires 500 pounds of fossil fuels to make.
Microchips are in everything—computers, cars, even refrigerators. But making those tiny chips costs more than you’d think. It takes about 70 pounds of water and hundreds of chemicals—including arsenic—to make a single microchip; your cell phone contains dozens of them.
Fabricating microchips has made Silicon Valley—the heart of the high tech industry—one of the most polluted areas in the United States.
Repair makes your products last longer.
Every cell phone repaired is one less that needs to be manufactured. Every laptop used for just one year longer lessens the strain on our finite resources. Every computer upgraded can go on to a second, third, or even a fourth user before it really needs to be replaced.
Buy repairable electronics whenever possible. Fix your phone and your computer when they wear out. Then keep using them, or give them away.
You can do something real, something tangible to make electronics a more sustainable part of our lives.
Mining and manufacturing is destruction.
Making products last longer just makes sense—repair and reuse are our future.
What is repairable design?
Conflict minerals from our electronics are fueling wars in the Congo.
For the last several decades, no rare earths have been mined in the US, but that has recently changed.